The fruits and vegetables of today are nothing like those of centuries ago. This graphic illustrates

At no other time in human history have we been so self-aware about what we eat. It is something especially evident in moral matters. It is no longer about ensuring correct caloric intake and a healthy variety of foods, but also about minimizing our environmental impact along the way. The more extreme variants of this model of thinking, such as veganism, have gained a lot of traction in Western countries. And it is reasonable to think that in the medium and long term it will become a dominant trend.

But our peculiar relationship with food also includes nutrition. We are concerned about consuming pre-made food. For years we have been immersed in a cycle of awareness and debate about the impact of pesticides, GMOs and especially sugar. The historical dominance of the industry in food matters, pressure on the scientific community included, has been followed by a heated debate about the convenience of its intake. Sugar as a symbol of an industrial and unhealthy diet, as opposed to organic and natural.

We have talked at length about this turn to “natural” in Nutriscore regulation and its problems in correctly cataloging “bio”; in alternative fertilization methods, such as flowers; or in the consumption of more exclusive and more unleashed meat products from industrial production lines. On the way they have appeared vegetables and fruits, to which we usually associate an organic and sustainable component, immaculate, directly arising from nature, which does not always have a correspondence with reality.

Illustrates it this great graphic produced by @ SmartBiology3D which compares what some of the vegetables and fruits we eat today were like hundreds or thousands of years ago. The transformation is brutal, it is due to human action and is largely the result of an ancestral and rudimentary “genetic engineering”, by trial and error, that has forged the food we know today. The avocado was nothing more than a small ball made up mostly of its pit; the carrot a root without much attraction; and the peach a small orange egg closer to the berries of a bush than to a modern “fruit”.

It is logical. Agriculture is not just about planting seeds and harvesting their fruits. Throughout history, human beings have improved and perfected cultivation and harvesting systems, maximizing harvests and seeking the highest caloric and nutritional yield for each square meter planted. This process has not always been quick (the transition from rotary farming it was conceived over centuries, for example), but it has accelerated since the “Green Revolution” completely transformed the uses and customs of the countryside in the mid-twentieth century. Produce more, produce better. It has always been like this.

Graphics like this shed light on the history of food and demystify trends such as “paleodiet“The idea that you can feed yourself just as your ancestors did thousands of years ago. This premise is unreal, as is idealizing a more organic and natural past in which human beings lived in harmony with the elements and there were no fallen prey to the moral corruption that the industrialized world brought with it.We have always tried to modify our food, be it vegetables or animals, with more precarious tools, but with intentions not far removed from contemporary ones.

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The watermelons of our great-great-great-grandparents, bottom right.

Observing this drastic change in food is possible through art and its still lifes. It is a famous story: those watermelons and melons portrayed by European artists of the Modern Age had internal grooves of a hard and inedible appearance that cut into pieces and they minimized the pulp, the inner flesh of the fruit. Those “melons” of the past have little to do with the round, giant, full-bodied balls we enjoy today. If so, it is thanks to the selection that farmers have practiced for centuries.

It is something that has also happened with more transcendental crops for the food of humanity, such as wheat or corn. Despite its “natural” aspect, what we observe in our rural fields today it has little to do with what thousands of years ago our ancestors found in the wild in their environment. 9,000 years ago, an ear of corn did not exceed 19 millimeters and it appeared before our eyes with an unappetizing grayish color. Wherever it occurred naturally, there were no more than a dozen varieties. His productivity was pulling down. Problems that the humans of yesteryear solved.

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Today the standard cob round the 20 centimetersWe have about 200 varieties and it is grown in almost 70 different countries, far from its original niche in America. Corn has become the main source of food on the planet, with more than 800,000,000 tons produced per year and with a productivity of 5 tons per hectare. None of this would have been possible from a “natural” point of view. It is the artificiality of what we eat that is responsible for humanity eating more and better than ever today.

In this article from a few years ago Other similar transformations can be observed, such as that of the peach. In a time when “natural” labels (How can we forget that legendary stall that boasted of selling “natural croquettes“) populate foods produced in an industrial way and in which the traditional agriculture and organic has gained some popular traction it is important to remember that neither is what we usually believe it to be. The best proof of all this are the fruits that we once ate and that, centuries later, we would be unable to put into our mouths. Precisely because they are not natural.

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